The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Humbug,” “The Calusari,” & “F. Emasculata”
"Not all women are attracted to overly tall, lanky men such as yourself."
[Insulates self with pillows cos she didn’t like Humbug very much.]
This was weird. Really, really weird. I beg pa’rn in advance because many of you have said this is a fan favourite, but like…meh. I don’t get it. The change in tone is so marked and so random that it just doesn’t sit right with me, especially after the low points of the previous two episodes.
The gist is this: our heroes rock up to a town founded by sideshow performers in Florida. One of the performers was killed by an unknown assailant in his swimming pool. Others follow suit, and eventually they discover it was another one of the performers’ conjoined twin who never fully developed but found a way to detach himself and crawl off into the night to burrow into people. Full marks for imagination, at least. There’s a glorious stream of one-liners and something faintly charming about our heroes coming across as teenage Nancy Drew wannabes. Choice quotes include the following:
- [officiant at funeral] “Though he was a renowned escape artist, there is one strong box from which none of us can escape”
- [Dr. Blockhead] “Did you know that through the protective Chinese practice of Tie Bu Shan, you can train your testicles to draw up into your abdomen?” // [Mulder] “I’m doing that as we speak”
- [Mulder] “Hypertrichosis does not connote lycanthropy…we’re being highly discriminatory here. Just because a man was once afflicted with excessive hairiness, we have no reason to suspect him of aberrant behaviour.” // [Scully] “It’s like assuming guilt based solely on skin colour, isn’t it?”
- [Mulder] “You really shouldn’t complain about banality when your main suspect is the Human Blockhead”
- [Blockhead] “If people knew the true price of spirituality there’d be more atheists”
- [Blockhead] “What gives you right to handcuff me?” // [Scully] “Did I mention I’m a federal agent?” // [Blockhead] “Did I mention I’m an escape artist?”
But let’s be serious for the course of the recap:
Our heroes decamp to Gibsonton, Florida to investigate the peculiar murder of a sideshow performer named Alligator Man. Gibsonton was founded in the 20s by former circus performers and things get wacky pretty early on when Alligator Man’s coffin starts twitching at the funeral, eliciting the following classic expressions:
As it turns out, it’s just another performer named Dr. Blockhead, who makes an elaborate show of stabbing himself so as to see Alligator Man off in style. Grand. Mulder and Scully check into a local trailer court, where Mulder makes the poor decision to ask the manager if he’s ever worked for a circus. The manager – Mr. Nutt, a little person – proceeds to go on a beautifully-worded rant about stereotyping and makes the first of what will become a curious running joke about Mulder’s “All-American” good looks. Unrelated: I had an odd dream the other night that David Duchovny was secretly English, and dream me spent a prolonged period of time wondering why they wouldn’t let both him and Gillian Anderson use English accents for their characters. Imagine a BBC version of The X-Files.
Anytoot, the next day, Mulder and Scully speak to a local artist about a picture he drew of the Fiji mermaid. This is some kind of mythic creature which was once popular on the sideshow circuit, and usually turned out to be a monkey with a fishtail attached. Mulder gets all kinds of notions, pointing out that tracks leading up to the murder scene might be simian. Unfortunately, the artist is the next victim to kick the bucket. Traces of blood are found on the outside of his window, prompting speculation as to why the killer wouldn’t have just come through the open front door.
Mulder is on a morning jog down near the river when he sees a heavily-tattooed man crawl out of the water like Gollum and bite into a live fish.
They later learn Gollum is what’s called a “geek” and he’s known in the community as the Conundrum. Apparently he will eat anything, live or dead, creature or object, organic or no. You can already see where this is going. Scully’s sleuthing turns up a picture of a performer named Jim-Jim the Dog-Faced Boy whom they later discover to be the sheriff in a past life. There’s some discussion of how they shouldn’t suspect someone just cos he used to be excessively hairy, and they follow him at night to discover him burying a potato. THIS EPISODE IS SO EFFING WEIRD.
Mr Nutt goes next, gobbled through his dog flap by the still-unknown-creature. Scully wants to question Dr. Blockhead, but he gets angsty and wants a lawyer, then declares he’ll represent himself. They manage to get him down to the local jail where they find Lanny, Nutt’s porter, sleeping off a drunken haze. Scully checks on him when he keeps groaning and they find that his conjoined twin has done a runner. Lanny’s twin, Leonard, was underdeveloped and the stunted foetus was still attached to his torso, except it’s less a foetus than a mobile murderer with a bad appetite. Lanny, who’s an alcoholic, laments that he’s only ever taken care of Leonard but now that he’s basically dying from cirrhosis Leonard is looking for someone else, and keeps inadvertently killing people by trying to burrow into their chests. He says “it hurts not to be wanted.” That’s really sad. Despite how peculiar this episode is. Everything’s so uncomfortable.
Our heroes go on the trail and track Leonard through a funhouse, because when in Rome. Had The Guest not put together the definitive third-act interpretation of killer-in-a-funhouse last year, I’d have enjoyed this more. (By the way, if you haven’t seen The Guest, watch The Guest. Right now. Immediately.) They follow the trail outside and find Dr. Blockhead upended but Leonard seems to have disappeared into thin air, and when they go back to the jail Lanny is dead. The next morning, they discover Dr. Blockhead is leaving town with the Conundrum in tow. Blockhead declares that genetic engineering will lead to a future full of people who look like Mulder (“imagine going through your whole life looking like that”) and that it will fall to those like him to show that nature “abhors normality.” Chapeau, sir. Mulder takes a quick look at the Conundrum, who looks somewhat worse for wear. He remarks that it must be something he ate before Blockhead drives them away.
The Conundrum ate Leonard.
[Audrina Partridge voice] I’m done.
This was more like it. A very 90s horror episode with an alarming abundance of swastikas and (presumably) massive liberties with Romanian culture. Somebody page Sebastian Stan and ask him to translate what they’re saying. I wonder if it’s as hideous as the French and Norwegian in earlier episodes.
Mulder and Scully come in on a case involving the death of a small boy at a theme park. A toddler named Teddy somehow managed to wander off from his parents and onto a miniature railroad tracks, right in front of an oncoming train. A photo from the scene shows the balloon Teddy was presumably chasing after, but also reveals a strange dark shape which is sufficiently creepy enough for the coroner to call up Mulder.
Scully does some digging and learns that Teddy was in and out of hospital almost a dozen times in the course of his short life. She begins to suspect that the case may be an instance of Munchausen by proxy, whereby a parent or caregiver seeks attention by harming their child. Her suspicions arise after she and Mulder attempt to interview Teddy’s parents, only to be interrupted by his grandmother, Golda, walking into the room and ranting about evil. Golda’s drawn swastikas all over the windows of her room and a few on Charlie, Teddy’s older brother. She and the boys’ mother, Maggie, are from Romania and she claims that Maggie married an evil man and has ended up with evil children. Charming stuff. Bet the Christmas dinner table’s a treat.
Charlie and Teddy’s father explains that he met their mother in Romania and Golda has always been weird. She calls Charlie evil to his face but also dotes on him like she’s afraid of him. She’s very superstitious and things have been pretty funky in the house ever since she moved over, shortly after Teddy was born. Mulder and Scully suggest Charlie speak to a counsellor. The dad goes to take Charlie to his appointment but the wiring in the garage door shorts out and, when he attempts to fix it, he’s inadvertently hanged by his tie. Mulder recovers traces of sediment from the door mechanism. After scientific analysis can’t identify it, he takes it to the Lone Gunmen office to be examined. Chuck recognises it as holy ash, something which materialises out of thin air whenever spirits are present or transferred.
Back at the house, Golda’s called in a bunch of austere men in suits and they’re having a ritual. Charlie collapses outside the door. Maggie comes running upstairs – with the counsellor, who’s just arrived – and interrupts the ritual. The counsellor calls Mulder and Scully but Golda has grabbed Charlie and pulled him into her room. She attempts to complete the ritual but something closes in on them and she ends up being attacked by chickens. By the time our heroes burst in, she’s dead, and it looks like her eyes have been pecked out. Gross.
Mulder spots the men outside and tries to talk to them. They’re standoffish but the oldest one tells him that the evil which exists here has always been, and if he gets in the way the blood will be on his hands. That’s probably not the worst thing Mulder’s ever heard, tbh. The counsellor manages to speak to Charlie later but he freaks out when she asks him about what happened. He says he didn’t do anything; it was “Michael”. This startles Maggie, who’s watching from outside. She tells Mulder and Scully that Michael was Charlie’s twin but he was stillborn at birth. Her mother had wanted to perform a ritual to separate their spirits, but Maggie put it down to superstition. In fairness, I think most of us would. The last thing you want to hear when mourning your stillborn child is that they’re gonna follow your other kids around forever like a particularly abrasive smell.
Charlie then has a fit and is taken to hospital. Doctors admit him for observation. Later that night, a nurse comes in to give him a shot to help him sleep. He panics, and Michael appears behind her and knocks her out. Michael then goes to Maggie and persuades her to bring him home. The alarm is raised when our heroes find Charlie still in his room and see Maggie leaving with Michael from the window. The nurse comes to and says Charlie didn’t attack her, it was “the other one”. Scully goes after Maggie while Mulder calls in the old men; the “Calusari” of the title. Maggie had earlier explained that they are responsible for ensuring the correct observance of sacred rites in Romania.
Back at the house, Maggie attempts a ritual of her own to deal with Michael. He’s a little shit, btw, and starts talking about how they should go to the fairground and ride the train. The same one that he led Teddy to to be run over, I should specify. Delete this noise. Scully arrives a little while later and finds Maggie pinned up against a wall. Michael attacks her and sends her flying across the room. At the hospital, the Calusari manage to complete the ritual they started earlier with Golda. Mulder helps them to hold Charlie down and looks completely freaked out while doing it. When they eventually finish, Michael disappears from the house and Scully and Maggie are released. The old man tells Mulder Charlie will be fine but he (Mulder) needs to watch his back as “it” knows him and may follow him. Dude, come at him. After everything he’s seen I think he might actually welcome something as straightforward as a vengeful spirit. The Winchesters taught us how to deal with those ages ago.
Anyhoo, this was great! Standard creepfest, but I always enjoy the show’s take on paranormal scares in suburbia. It may not add anything to the overall mythos – unless Mulder gets a personalised haunting amid all his other issues – but it’s dark and enjoyable and shows our heroes being badass at their jobs.
I’m on a mission to hit the season finale ASAP so let’s do “F. Emasculata” as well.
Have I mentioned that I have a random, possibly twisted fascination with infectious diseases? I love reading about the elaborate ways nature’s tiniest organisms can kill you. I read “The Hot Zone” last year and ruined everyone in my office’s lunch. This episode was right up my alley, but the exact nature in which the disease spreads is vile in the extreme so I’ve kept screencaps to a minimum. Go on, eat your lunch.
A scientist working in Costa Rica contracts an ugly illness after coming across a dead boar. The boar was covered in boils, and when the scientist attempted to examine it the boils exploded and goo got all over him. Gross. It’s basically Alien on a smaller, more disgusting scale, and without the little cauliflower-like growth exploding out of your chest.
A suspicious package is then delivered to a prison back in the US. It’s marked for the attention of Robert Torrance, the same name as the scientist. When the designated prisoner opens it, he finds a rancid piece of meat inside. It has boils on it, so I’m guessing it came from the boar (or Torrance?! Ew.). Not long afterwards, he comes down with the same hideous illness and is pretty much doomed within 36 hours. I wonder if this was out about the same time as Outbreak.
Our heroes come in on the case for reasons which are at first not immediately clear. Two prisoners have escaped after being instructed to clean out the room where the first prisoner died. US marshals are on the trail and no one can tell why Mulder and Scully are there. Scully says the case came out of Skinner’s office, but the truth (fnar) doesn’t come out until they dig deeper into the origins of the contagion. Scully sticks around to find out more about the illness while Mulder heads off on the manhunt.
The medical workers refuse to give Scully any info. When she insists she’s a medical doctor (#doctordana) and demands to know what’s going on, a Dr. Osborne tells her they’re from the CDC and that the inmates have a “flu-like” illness. She asks for access to medical charts and the infirmary, but one of the other doctors says she’ll only see what he wants her to see. Not one to be mansplained to, she grabs a mask and gloves and does some snooping elsewhere. She finds a trove of bodies awaiting incineration in the basement. When she cuts open one of the bags to investigate further, she discovers that the bodies are covered in boils. Osborne finds her and tries to cover up the body again, but the boil explodes and Slimers him. Unfortunate. This is such a decidedly manky way to get infected. Scully also finds the original package which delivered the diseased meat to the prison. When she contacts the courier company to try and trace it, she discovers it came from Pinck Pharmaceuticals, a large (wouldn’t you know it) pharmaceutical company. All you Big Pharma conspiracy theorists can start salivating now.
Mulder’s at a petrol station, where the escaped cons have assaulted an attendant. One of the cons has come down with the illness and was lying, delirious, in the bathroom when the attendant came in. The other con, Paul, walloped him over the head and made off. Mulder wonders if Paul, in the grand tradition of all escaped prisoners ever, placed a call to a wife or girlfriend. The ridiculously inept marshals hadn’t considered this. They’ve got the firepower of a Confederate militia but not a single brain among them. If Raylan Givens were involved, this case would be solved already. (Interjection: someone please write Justified/TXF crossover fanfic exploring this in more detail.) Mulder goes to the nearby phone booth and manages to trace the last call placed from it. Sure enough, it’s to Paul’s girlfriend. Before he and the marshals can hit the trail again, an air ambulance arrives and carts off the injured petrol station attendant in a pressurised container. Something is rotten in the state of Virginia.
Paul’s taken his diseased compadre to his girlfriend’s house. He’s an idiot. He and the girlfriend have an infant son and his diseased mate infects them all while he himself makes off through a back window. By the time Mulder and the marshals burst in, diseased friend is dead and Liz had gotten a boil-ful of goo in the face. Everything is gross. To be fair, it’s not immediately clear if the child is affected but she’s put in quarantine. Back at the prison, Osborne’s own boil-ful of goo has infected him, and his dying conscience prompts him to confide in Scully. He reveals that Pinck indulge in a little friendly bug prospecting in the rainforest in the hopes of getting rich off illnesses for which they have an exclusive drug. (Capitalism! *thumbs*) This particular strain of awful comes from a parasite which usually lives in insects. The boils are part of its reproductive cycle, and when they “erupt” they release larvae which in turn infect whatever living thing they land on. He wants to check if Scully is infected too, as she was present when the body ~erupted on him. The prison’s been put under quarantine and he says she should leave sharpish if she’s not infected. They can’t spot the disease in bloodwork so they have to strap an insect to her arm for half an hour, then wait two hours to check its blood for signs of infection. This seems like a needlessly complicated way of diagnosing the disease, but whatever. Beloved Dana is not infected, and Osborne charges her with getting the ~truth out there.
Here’s where the episode gets a little tricky. As we’re all aware, Mulder and Scully are solid choices (even inadvertently) for those looking to blow a conspiracy wide open, but the way the writers go about setting this one up seems somewhat heavyhanded. Mulder goes back to Skinner and demands to know why they weren’t told more about the case when it was assigned. The CSM is in Skinner’s office – smoking, again – why hasn’t Walter walloped him with his ‘thank you for not smoking’ sign – and Mulder confronts him, saying the case has lethal implications and they may well have been killed. The CSM says they didn’t know what they were dealing with and things had to be kept secret to contain panic. There’s some very loaded back and forth about how you can’t protect the public by lying to them and that Mulder is already party to it whether he realises it or not, and eventually Mulder flounces out, leaving Skinner to glare unappreciatively at the CSM. The interaction between the two of them is classic. Even when they don’t say anything their expressions speak volumes, not least given their tendency to look vaguely like they’ve been caught in the act every time someone bursts into Skinner’s office and finds the CSM spamming up the place.
Anyway, Scully calls Mulder with an update and he fills her in about what’s just happened, saying they need to go public. Scully is not in agreement, for perfectly understandable medical reasons. They don’t know what they’re dealing with and until they have more info they can’t release any details. Mulder agrees, begrudgingly, and goes to talk to Liz. He finds out that Paul is booked on a bus to Toronto that night and she’s supposed to be joining him. Mulder rounds up the marshals and heads down to the bus station. They manage to discreetly evacuate the area, and Mulder persuades the marshals to let him get on and quietly lock the bus down. Before he boards, he speaks to Scully. Osborne’s body has been incinerated, along with all the other victims at the jail. The situation has been contained but they’ve no evidence to bring what happened to light. She warns him that they need a statement from Paul if they’re to have any hope of going public.
Mulder gets on the bus but his plan doesn’t quite work out. Paul spots him, grabs a child and holds a gun to him. Mulder manages to get everyone else off the bus but before he can talk Paul down and persuade him to make a statement, someone shoots him through the window. It isn’t immediately clear whether this was one of the marshals or someone else, but before we know it guys in hazmat suits are on board and hauling his body away. So much for evidence.
Mulder goes to give Skinner a piece of his mind. My fave looks wearied. Someone should give him a stress ball for these confrontations, or I can make myself available to massage his head and bring him tea. I’m totally willing to take that one for the team, lads. When Mulder says he’s going public, Skinner exasperatedly warns him that he doesn’t know who he’s dealing with. Scully arrives and reveals the package which caused the whole outbreak at the prison was addressed to Robert Torrance, the scientist down in Costa Rica. In other words, Pinck covered their arses by claiming it was a simple postal error. Mulder realises that if they had gone public and their claims were discredited, he and Scully would be discredited along with it. Behold! The CSM’s infernal plan in all in its insidious detail. Oy. Skinner tells him to watch his back, that “they” are always three steps ahead and that this is just the beginning. It’s been “just the beginning” for ages, bub. Can we at least hit act 2? He really does excel in enigmatic warnings without ever really making himself available to do much about them. Or at least, not yet. It’s wonderful and tiring.
Enjoyably, Skinner offers the aforementioned cautions as Mulder’s “friend”. He actually considers himself Spooky Mulder’s friend! He actually considers himself Spooky Mulder’s friend! <333 I do so hope this means they’ll someday be able to have cordial pints and chat about that time they got caught up in the biggest secret ever concealed from the American public, but suffice to say it is not this day.
Onwards and upwards, peeps. With a bit of luck I’ll have the season finale in next week’s recap. I anticipate the ignominious return of Krycek’s eminently punchable face and greasy hair.
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